My Side of the Fence

The danger isn't going too far. It's that we don't go far enough.

Ye Olde Jail

Happy New Year!  I spent NYE at home and was in bed by 11:00 so I'm full of health and vigor.  I wasn't so full of health and vigor when I left the meeting, late last year, about the jail.  By way of quick recap, we share our jail and court facilities with the county.  We pay an estimated amount for all of that fun and games and then at the end of the year we do a "true up" so that we pay our actual costs.  We normally pay this amount out of "year end" funds that are leftovers from finished projects that didn't spend all of their budgets, salary savings, better than projected tax revenue and everything else.  This "true up" number has oscillated over the years – some years we were actually owed money by the county but the last several years our "true up" amount has been increasing enough that the Council was worried.  Patching small holes at the end of the year is one thing, patching $400,000 holes is quite another.  This being the case, we asked for a presentation from the Jail folks as to what was going on.  

The first thing to note is that our costs for jail services is largely driven by our average daily population (ADP) – the number of people we have locked up.  At any given time the city has about 120 people locked up.  The entire inmate population in the jail is about 1,100.  The result of the language in our contract is that our costs increase when our percentage of ADP gets out of line with our overall population.  This is the current situation.  Our annual cost for the jail is just north of $4,000,000 per year or 8% of our budget – twice what we spend on Public Works.  There are, in my view, 3 main drivers in our costs:

1.  The state has saved substantial money in their budget by defunding or passing costs to localities.  When the state budget was tight they cut their reimbursement payment to the jail for state inmates in half.  We still had to jail state prisoners, we just had to pay for it.  Another substantial driver is the shortage of judges.  The average wait for trial in PWC has doubled over the past 8 years.  People now wait about 60 days for trial.  We need more judges to get the accused their day in court and the hell out of the system.  All of this takes money and if the state isn't forthcoming, it ain't happening.  We can't start our own (even if we were so inclined) as the law requires us to use the existing facilities.  We have mentioned this to both Jackson Miller and Mr. Colgan.  It would make a difference so we'll see what happens.

2.  In the wake of the gang-slaying of that kid over near GTS and the guy who whacked someone with a machete the Council directed the police to tighten it up.  The way that they do that is to take a strict approach to enforcement – "zero tolerance".  The Chief warned us that this would drive the crime rate up and cost money – and he was right but we can't not arrest people when you have an issue of this nature.  Ongoing crime problems feed themselves.

3.  The City has not engaged in alternate strategies to help mitigate crime – especially crime among younger folks.  Face it, the demographics in Manassas – good, bad or indifferent – have trended towards lower income folks over the past 5-7 years.  We've gone from a predominately upper-middle income area to lower-middle.  The density in parts of the community continues to increase.  Places like GTS continue to generate an increasing number of students although a house hasn't been built there in decades.  Is this causal?  Do lower income people "cause" crime? Of course not but data seem to show a strong association between high-density, lower-income areas and increased crime.  Indeed, if you look at the "heat map" of crimes in the City they are concentrated around GTS and Point of Woods along Stonewall Rd.  Communities that act to break this cycle of crime amongst younger folks can realize benefits of healthier communities.  The city has messed about with Americorp and we have some dynamite staff working towards it but the resources dedicated to the effort can't possibly prevail.  There are tthings we can do but they're politically very tough.

Indeed, a concerted effort to stabilize these neighborhoods and provide better outcomes would do a world of good, and not just on the City side.  Imagine, the impacts on the schools if we were doing great things there.  Ultimately it comes down to money and my view is that the City will pay one way or the other.

Big future challenges for the jail are expansion.  There is one more expansion on the books for the jail and then they have to tear down the temporary jail.  According to our agreement, future jail expansions are to be built elsewhere but look for buckets of pushback from the county on that.  Currently all of the jail space for the area is inside of the City so the county politicians don't have to worry about it!  That's going to change when the next jail expansion occurs.

I've attached the presentation here.Finance Presentation 1213


  1. Thanks for attaching the presentation!  As always, you know I love to see the various documents.

    Your paragraphs 2 and 3 talk about the neighborhoods and crime, and as I recall, about a year or so ago our Chief said he was working with Dr. Weisburd from GMU on "hot spots", and there was supposed to be a presentation to the Council.  Whatever became of that work?

  2. Andy, thank you for this report. Martha Wilson

  3. Then why don't you do something about it?

  4. I remember the first time I played SimCity on a PC. At first, I thought the game was "cake". I was building, expanding, providing services, and maintaining a stable budget and reasonable taxes. My populations began to increase, so did tax revenues…all good. Then, crime started to rise in certain parts of my city, services became strained, and all sort of bad things happened. If I changed something in one place, things started to go sideways in another. The moral of this story is, running a simulated city is tough, running a real city is tougher. I don't envy our elected officials, but I do salute them.


  5. By the way, on future expansions…or for that matter, the issues around the "donut hole", it may be worth digging out that long, long court case (1975-2005) between the City and PWC.  Another document of note is from the Commission on Local Government, VA DHCD.  Back in 1996, there was a settlement agreement between PWC and the City….Manassas Park had one with PWC back in 1989.  Might be worth looking into.

  6. I remember when the "temporary" jail was constructed. It was built under the premise that a more permenant and long term facility would be built elsewhere in the county. When they came back and put the masonary exterior on the "temporary" jail quite a number of Manassas residents questioned the temporary status and we were told "anyone who thought that temporary jail was actually temporary was naive at best". Does anyone remember who the county representative was?   

  7. For this coming Tuesday (Jan. 21) BOCS Session, $1,176,000 for Vehicle Replacement and Temporary Inmate Relocation.   Oh, and note on the vehicles – they did not plan for any replacements in FY2014 budget, but suddenly need to do it.



  8. Andy, today at the abbreviated BOCS Session, Wally Covington related how the Jail Board had received the "Community-Based Corrections Plan" from the consultant, which includes the jail expansion.  Wally asked the CXO to coordinate a joint meeting with Jail Board, BOCS, the two Citiy Councils, and their respective finance folks.  Good move on his part!

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